VISIT TO PARAGUAY BY THE OFFICE OF THE RAPPORTEUR ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
Asunción, Paraguay, September 7, 2010—At the invitation of the government of Paraguay, the Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) arrived in the country on September 2, 2010, to verify the general situation of indigenous peoples in Paraguay, visit indigenous communities with cases pending before the inter-American human rights system, and learn about the national government's efforts in this area. The delegation was led by the Rapporteur, Commissioner Dinah Shelton.
The Office of the Rapporteur would like to thank the Paraguayan government for its high level of cooperation in seeking friendly settlements in cases pending before the IACHR, as well as for proposing solutions to pending problems and expressing its intention to comply with the decisions issued by the bodies of the inter-American human rights system. Both the government and the indigenous communities have manifested their firm intention to find a friendly settlement to various difficult issues tied to the critical problem of indigenous ancestral territories. The principal human rights problems that affect indigenous peoples in Paraguay are directly connected to property rights over ancestral territories—including the titling, access to, and peaceful enjoyment of the territory—or depend on these issues being resolved.
The Office of the Rapporteur expresses its appreciation to the government and to the community of Yakye Axa for reaching an agreement with respect to some of the principles in the ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that are pending compliance. The State was represented by high-level representatives from the Permanent Mission of Paraguay to the OAS, the Attorney General's Office, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; also present were the community's attorneys and indigenous leaders and authorities.
In terms of the case involving the Kelyenmagategma community, whose petition is pending a decision by the IACHR, the Office of the Rapporteur's delegation had difficulty gaining access to the community due to the refusal of permission to cross a private property that surrounds the indigenous community. The IACHR experienced firsthand the access problems that members of the community endure on a daily basis and saw the consequences of these problems on the community's health and well-being. One of the reasons given for denying authorization was the presence of the community's attorneys in the delegation. The precautionary measures adopted by the IACHR in the case of this community refer to the right of any petitioner before the IACHR to freely have access to his or her representatives and attorneys. The Office of the Rapporteur expresses its deepest concern over death threats made against the indigenous leaders by the guards who refused to let the delegation pass through. Finally, thanks to the good will of the owner of a neighboring estate, the IACHR was able to visit the community after undergoing serious difficulties, taking a detour of approximately seven kilometers in the nighttime hours. The government has presented a series of proposals that the community is studying, and it expects that the petition can be settled amicably.
The Office of the Rapporteur recognizes the important contributions of the Paraguayan Institute of Indigenous Affairs (Instituto Paraguayo del Indígena, INDI) and the Inter-Institutional Commission on Compliance with International Judgments (Comisión Interinstitucional para el Cumplimiento de las Sentencias Internacionales, CICSI) in the development of these constructive proposals for agreement. The Office of the Rapporteur notes the existence and composition of the CICSI as an example of an inter-institutional arrangement that could potentially succeed in resolving problems faced by the country's indigenous peoples. The government's leadership in this regard can be viewed as a model for other countries in the region.
The Office of the Rapporteur underscores and appreciates the hospitality of the Kelyenmagategma community, as well as that of the Yakye Axa and Sawhoyamaxa communities, who despite the extreme conditions in which they live and their lack of resources, provided food and shelter to the IACHR during the visit.
It became evident during the visit that there are serious structural problems that stand in the way of compliance with property rights over the ancestral territories of indigenous peoples. While the legal system has many positive aspects, including the incorporation of ILO Convention 169 and the constitutional recognition of rights of indigenous peoples, nevertheless conflicts persist with other legal or constitutional provisions and must be resolved. The creation and consolidation of large estates, which predates the development of democratic governments, has left a legacy not only in terms of the problems that indigenous peoples face today, but also in terms of the legal system of expropriation, particularly in cases in which private owners are not willing to restore indigenous territorial property confiscated in earlier times. The Office of the Rapporteur recognizes that the problems faced by the government in this area are difficult, but emphasizes that these problems should be resolved in accordance with respect for human rights.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.
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